By Sonya Rehman
Z had packed up her apartment within a week. She, the kids and her husband were leaving Dubai after years to start a new chapter in another country. I wasn’t too happy knowing she was going to leave. After all, here was one person who I’d grown up with, who represented ‘home’ in a city I’d just moved to. While her toddler gurgled, surrounded by a fortress of cushions, poking at a teddy, and her little girl showed me her furry white robotic cat that mew-ed and walked clumsily, I asked Z who was going to take care of her budgie – Mr. No Name. Why Z hadn’t given him a name in the two years of keeping him, I haven’t the foggiest.
She’d received the lavender-coloured budgie as part of a goody bag at her daughter’s friend’s birthday party. How insensitive to throw in a live creature along with other trinkets as part of a goody bag. But Z, being the soft-hearted woman that she is, took exceptional care of the budgie. So here I was, walking over to Z’s fridge, pulling out half a slice of bread, a tissue to clean his water bowl and a sippy cup full of water to feed Mr. No Name who was on the roof, in his yellow cage. It was rather hot – we were on the 30-something floor of her apartment in Business Bay, and I was worried the budgie had died, since Z, in her rush of packing up years of a life lovingly put together, had forgotten to feed him for a day.
Sliding the roof door open, I walked over to his little cage. He looked a bit withdrawn, his black eyes blinking away, his beak nibbling the cage handle. “Will he fly out if I open the cage?” I asked Z. “No, he never flies out. Open it.”
Taking out his filthy water container and cleaning it, I topped it up with water and placed some bajra (bird seed) on his tray, along with small chunks of bread. He nibbled on the bread a good deal. The wind was ruffling my hair and ruffling his little lavender head too. He ate. I watched.
Z left Dubai a week or so later, taking every bit of my comfort zone with her and her family. What became of the budgie? The guard in Z’s building took him in. I hope he’s doing okay, that gentle little creature.
Ever since Z left, I was forced to develop my existing, new friendships, and swim the manic tide of a new work environment. Things have been busy, difficult and physically, mentally and emotionally very draining. But it has been thoroughly rewarding. Change has been uncomfortable, at times, painful, and yet, glorious, somehow…
“No, he never flies out.”
In Lahore, I lived in a bubble. Even grad school in New York (at 26), couldn’t have prepared me for a work life in another country (at almost 33). I have been the budgie for many years. In a cage. Stubbornly, desperately, innocently hanging on to an identity that was given to me, and a conditioning that was done to me, without even my knowing it. There have been snatches of times, now and then, when I’ve always thought: why didn’t I ever become a psychologist, a vet, or a flutist? Fields I was always drawn to. Yet writing, journalism just ‘happened’ to me, because as a little person growing up listening to big people telling me I’m ‘good’ at writing, I thought, okay, that’s what I should be then: a writer. My fate, was hence pre-determined.
But what if I wound up taking another path? How different would my life be, or me, how different would I be, compared to the me, now? And then, marriage. I wanted to marry this lovely goof-ball in my teens/early 20s only because all my friends were getting engaged. But did I really want to get married? Was I mature enough? Strong enough? The pressure seeped into my late 20s, when I played out exactly the same scenario with a handsome, soft-spoken romantic overseas. I was so close to what I wanted – here I was, in my dream school in the states, and there he was, with me, on a short visit. I didn’t know what I wanted. I didn’t know how to handle love, let alone, love myself. I didn’t allow time and patience to knead out my insecurities, because, time, after all, reveals everything – it tugs at the veil, revealing everything, doesn’t it? I never got over him, even though it has been years. But he represented an ‘impossible,’ the newness of it was much to much to bear. I couldn’t. What if I got hurt? What if I lost a part of myself?
I am the budgie, still. I am almost out of my cage, and these wings are so new to me. The sky, overwhelmingly beautiful, at different angles, but what if I don’t make it? What if? First flight, I’m letting go.
“No, he never flies out.”
But what if he did?